A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $50,000 Salary

Refinery29
·24 min read

Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We’re asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Today: a senior operations coordinator who makes $50,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on an overdue parking ticket.

Occupation: Senior Operations Coordinator
Industry: Staffing
Age: 31
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: $50,000
Net Worth: -$3,000 ($46,000 in an emergency fund, 401(k), plus equity in my house minus debt (see below))
Debt: $295,500 (mortgage, student loans ($42,000), Home Depot credit card ($5,000), personal credit card($2,000))
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,370 (post-deductions)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $108 (My mortgage is $1,508/month, but my house is a two-flat and I collect $1,400/month in rental income from my tenants who live in the unit above me. I have 50/50 custody of my three-year-old son so he lives with me half the time.)
Student Loans: $485
Savings: $325
Son’s Expenses: $595 (I deposit this into the checking account I share with my ex-husband to pay for our son’s shared expenses. Right now we mainly use it to pay for his daycare, of which my share is about $433/month.)
Credit Card Debt: $250 (I try to pay $100 on my personal credit card and $150 on my Home Depot credit card)
Electric: ~$125
Gas: $55
Phone: $75
Internet: $45
Car Insurance: $69
Donation to Families Belong Together: $27
Sling (my half of the account I split with my mom): $22
Netflix: $9
Disney+: $8
Apple iCloud Storage: $3
My Son’s Health Insurance: $71 (I send this amount to my ex, my health insurance through my company is automatically deducted from my paycheck)
Son’s College Savings: $50

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes, it was expected that I would go to college. I ended up earning two bachelor’s and a master’s (none of which are related to my career after all.) All were paid with student loans, half of which were paid by my parents.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents didn’t speak with me much about money. They didn’t struggle with money very much, so I never worried about it as a kid. When I got my first job at 16, my parents helped me set up my first checking account and credit card. My dad told me I should only charge what I could afford to pay off every month, which I have struggled to do my entire life, and therefore I try to avoid using my credit card as much as possible because I struggle to pay it off. I was never really taught how to budget and pay bills, so I’ve just had to learn as I go. I wish I had learned better budgeting skills because I can get myself into trouble sometimes with spending what I can’t really afford.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was a hostess at a restaurant at 16. I wanted to work and earn my own money and I was able to use my money to buy clothes and go out with my friends.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My dad paid my rent, phone bill, and health insurance through college, but I worked and paid all my other bills during college. Once I graduated from college at 22, I started paying for everything myself, although my parents would help me if I was short on bills once in a while. Once I got married at 26, they would only help if it was actually a dire emergency.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes, my now ex-husband received an inheritance when he was 18, and we used that to buy our first house together. When we separated, we sold that house and I got half of the equity, which I then used towards the down payment on the house I live in now. My mom and stepdad are 70% co-owners of my house. They contributed about a third of the down payment and contributed more towards the renovations. The idea is that eventually this will become an investment property for them, and they will get a cut of the rental income. However, right now they are doing me a favor and letting me keep 100% of the rental income to put towards the mortgage until I get a little bit more back on my feet from my divorce, and once my son starts school in two years and I don’t have to pay for daycare anymore.

Day One

7:11 a.m. — The recycling truck in the alley wakes me up. I get out of bed, change into clean, warmer pajamas and slippers, and head into the bathroom. I brush my teeth and hair and throw my hair into a ponytail. Ready for work from home. Then I head to the kitchen. I bought this house four months ago, but we were renovating it, so I’ve only actually been living here about two weeks. My kitchen still isn’t quite fully functional yet. I heat some water in the microwave to make myself a cup of Starbucks instant coffee and grab a blueberry muffin. Then I make my “commute” to my office down the hall. I open my laptop and start work. I’ve been very lucky that my job hasn’t been affected much by the pandemic other than working from home.

9:30 a.m. — I take a break between meetings to pay some bills that are sitting on my desk nagging me. I have to transfer some money from my savings/emergency fund to pay them. First I tackle my 2019 second installment property tax bill. I still don’t fully understand why I have to pay this out of pocket rather than it coming from my escrow account. My lender explained it to me at my closing and it made sense to me at the time, but now I don’t remember. I know he explained that starting next year, it will be paid from escrow, but it’s just this one I had to pay out of pocket for some reason. $1,691.83

10 a.m. — I have to pay a red light ticket. I haven’t gotten a ticket in years, and I’m kicking myself for paying it late so now my fine has doubled. Booooooo. $200

11:30 a.m. — I quickly eat a salted caramel Greek yogurt from the fridge before my last meeting of the morning. After my meeting, I heat up my Wing Stop leftovers from last night and take a lunch break to watch The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. Working from home is awesome 🙂

5 p.m. — After ordering some things on Amazon for work, I am distracted/reminded by a couple of things I wanted to order for myself. I order a throw pillow insert to go in a pillow cover I bought a while ago for my new bedding set and some coffee pods for the coffee machine my mom gave me. $31.55

7 p.m. — A guy I’ve been seeing casually for about five months, L., is coming over tonight, so I change into jeans and a cute top and throw some makeup on (BB cream, brow tint, mascara, and blush). I showered and shaved last night, so all good there. L. brings pizza and wine (good man). We talk about the election (I dropped off my ballot last week) and 529 plans. All that romantic conversation obviously leads to sex, and he goes home around 11. I brush my teeth, change into pajamas, and fall into bed, a little buzzed from the wine.

Daily Total: $1,923.38

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — I wake up naturally (I don’t think I’ve used an alarm clock in the last seven months!) and do my usual work-from-home morning routine. Make my bed, change into clean, comfy clothes and slippers, brush my teeth and hair, and grab what is hopefully my last cup of instant coffee. While I’m waiting for my water to heat, I text L. good morning. I also return a text from another guy, T., who I started talking to a couple of weeks ago on a dating app. We met for socially distanced coffee a couple of days ago and I liked my first impression of him a lot, so I’m keeping that going as well. L. and I are not exclusive, so I’m having fun exploring my options. 🙂 Coffee and muffin in hand, I head to my office to start work for the day.

9:30 a.m. — Back on Amazon because I’m realizing the coffee machine my mom gave me is super dirty, so I order some descaling solution. To qualify for free same-day shipping, I add in a set of sheer window curtains and Swiffer pads that I was planning on buying anyway. I also snack on a peach Greek yogurt. $37.67

12 p.m. — Lunchtime! I grab a Diet Coke, heat up some leftover Indian food, and watch more of The Great British Baking Show. Some cute texts with T. are exchanged and we arrange our second date for next week.

2 p.m. — After my last meeting, I don’t have a ton of work left to do for the day, so I take a shower. Did I mention I love working from home? I never want to go back to the office, ha.

5 p.m. — After finishing up work, I brush through my air-dried hair, put on some jeans and a clean shirt, and head over to my mom and stepdad’s house. I lived there the last nine months during my divorce and quarantine, and it’s still a little strange to be heading back there from my own house now. It’s my stepdad’s daughter’s 16th birthday, and at her request, my stepdad picks up Chipotle for the four of us. I get a steak burrito bowl with guac. For dessert, we have funfetti cake and ice cream.

8 p.m. — I have a virtual appointment with my therapist. I decide to call her from the car on my way back home. I’ve been seeing her for nine months and sometimes I wonder if it’s really helping me or not, but I guess it helps to at least talk about stuff, even if I don’t have breakthroughs during the sessions. I’m normally not a very emotional or sensitive person, but I think I’ve been doing a good job at letting all my emotions out as they come, to allow myself to heal instead of stuffing them down. I’ve certainly cried enough in the last nine months to last the rest of my lifetime, I think.

9 p.m. — After finishing with my therapist, I get the package off my front porch that was delivered while I was gone, put on my new window curtains, and put the new pillow on my bed. I’m loving finally being able to decorate and make this place my own. I watch some of The Great British Baking Show (it’s soothing, ok?), change into pajamas, brush my teeth, and go to bed around 11.

Daily Total: $37.67

Day Three

7 a.m. — My eyes open but I don’t feel like getting out of bed yet. I scroll Facebook for a bit until I feel sick to my stomach, so I put the phone down. The only thing that lures me out of bed is trying my hand-me-down coffee machine now that I have the supplies. My first cup is disgusting, and I think it’s because all the descaling solution didn’t get rinsed out. I run a few more cycles of water and my second attempt at the coffee is pretty good! Still in my pajamas (what can I say, sometimes I’m extra lazy, plus I don’t have any video meetings today), coffee and muffin in hand, I sit at my desk to start work for the day.

9 a.m. — One of my best friends sends a text to the group chat with our other best friend. The three of us, plus their husbands, were planning on getting together next weekend. But one of the husbands is a nurse and he just got put back on the COVID unit at his hospital. Cases are rising in our state. So now, obviously for everyone’s safety, we have to rethink our plans. This really sucks. Being able to see my friends in person over the last couple of months has been one of the only things to look forward to and now that’s not possible again. I text L. and T. good morning, but my heart’s not in it. I’m too bummed out by everything going on, both in my world and the world. To make myself feel better, I decide to repaint my nails and put on Hamilton for the millionth time.

11 a.m. — I’ve been thinking about flying to see my grandma soon, since we probably won’t be doing our big family get-together for Christmas this year. My dad told me her memory is getting pretty bad, so I want to make sure she can see my son and me at some point this year. Thankfully the state she lives in hasn’t been hit as hard by COVID. I call my aunt and my brother, who also live there, to confirm that the dates work for them and my grandma. Everything looks good, so I go ahead and book the flights. I have a voucher from American Airlines so it’s pretty cheap. I call my grandma to let her know I’m coming (she won’t remember the conversation in 10 minutes, but I want to talk to her anyway) and I end up on the phone with her for over half an hour. She’s so excited to see us! $169

1 p.m. — I take a lunch break. I heat up a frozen chicken pot pie in the oven and grab a Diet Coke while I finish watching Hamilton.

4:30 p.m. — I walk the three blocks to my son’s preschool to pick him up. I haven’t seen him in five days and I’ve missed him so much!! When we get home, he wants to play with a building kit with me, so we play with that for a little while.

5:30 p.m. — My mom, stepdad, and grandpa arrive. My grandpa came in from out of state to visit for the next couple days and he’s super excited to see my son. He orders Chinese food for all of us. My son eats a decent amount of his lo mein noodles and makes up a song about egg rolls. I try to bribe him to try a shrimp, but he refuses. I have fried rice and sesame chicken. My stepdad also brought Trulys and I have a pineapple one, my favorite flavor! We give my grandpa a house tour since it’s his first time seeing it.

7:30 p.m. — My family leaves so I can get my son to bed. I get him in his jammies, brush his teeth, and read him a couple of books before lights out. I squeeze next to him in his twin bed while he gradually settles and falls asleep around 8:30. I almost fall asleep with him, but I manage to sneak out of the room once he’s out. I grab a mango Truly and attempt to watch The Mandalorian, but I end up mainly scrolling on Facebook and TikTok instead. I make arrangements to buy some snow boots for my son tomorrow from someone on Facebook Marketplace. I stay up too late screwing around on my phone and am in bed around midnight.

Daily Total: $169

Day Four

7 a.m. — I’ve been awake for probably about an hour, trying in vain to go back to sleep. My son comes into my room and hops into bed with me to cuddle. Then after a few minutes, he’s ready to get up and he tries dragging me out of bed. Guess it’s time to get up! I get him a muffin, an apple, and some milk for breakfast while he watches a show called Word World on TV. While he’s occupied, I get myself dressed in leggings and a clean t-shirt, brush my teeth, and put my hair in a ponytail. I make myself a cup of coffee. By the time I’m ready, his show is done, so I get him dressed, and we head out the door to school.

8:15 a.m. — Back home, I make another cup of coffee, eat the rest of my son’s apple (I can’t tell you how many half-eaten apples I’ve finished in the last couple years) and grab the last muffin, and bring them to my desk to start work. I return “good morning” texts to L. and T. Between working, I throw in a couple of loads of laundry. I also text with my mom, brainstorming some ideas for cute Halloween food to make for my son on Saturday.

12:30 p.m. — I take a break for lunch: leftover Chinese and a Diet Coke.

2:30 p.m. — I quickly run out to the porch to pick up the snow boots from the Facebook Marketplace seller. I Venmo her from my son’s account that I split 50/50 with my ex, so my half is $4. My ex and I discussed this purchase a while ago and I chose to go the used route since I can’t stomach buying new snow gear for a kid who will grow out of it so quickly. $4

4:30 p.m. — I walk over to pick up my son from school. When we get home, he is hungry. He goes through an entire container of raspberries, half a container of strawberries, half a banana, and half a container of cherry tomatoes. Guess that’s his dinner! For myself, I have some frozen taquitos with sour cream and a Diet Coke. We watch Toy Story 4 while we eat.

8:30 p.m. — I almost fell asleep with my son again and I contemplate going to bed myself, but I force myself to work on unpacking a few of my boxes. I unpack all my glasses and dishes in my kitchen. After about an hour-and-a-half and three boxes later, I feel accomplished, so I reward myself with half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and Hamilton. I always turn it off after “Burn,” because everything after that makes me cry. I’m asleep around midnight.

Daily Total: $4

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up and realize that at some point during the night my son came into my bed, but I have no recollection of that. Oh well, it’s always a nice surprise to be able to have some morning snuggles. It’s our tradition on Friday mornings to get donuts before school, so we quickly get dressed and instead of walking, we hop in the car and drive to Dunkin’. He gets his favorite, strawberry frosted, and I get a chocolate donut and a hazelnut latte. We arrive at school, and I put his Halloween costume over his clothes. He chose to be Lightning McQueen, and he’s thrilled! $9.36

10:30 a.m. — After dealing with some technology issues, I take a shower since I can’t get online. I finally am able to start working for the day. Yesterday felt like Friday to me, so today is just annoying and I’m ready to be done with work already.

12:30 p.m. — I take a break for lunch. I have a ham and cheese sandwich, some chips, and a Diet Coke. I also have a Reese’s from my Halloween candy stash. I also exchange some texts with T. Our second date is in a few days.

3 p.m. — I frantically finish up some work so I can hop on my team’s virtual happy hour. I have a pineapple Truly.

5 p.m. — I need to get cash to buy a snowsuit for my son on Facebook Marketplace, so I drive to the bank and take $20 cash out of my son’s account. The snowsuit is only $10, so I stop at the liquor store first to get a bottle of wine and break the $20. $9.99

5:30 p.m. — I pick up my son and we go get the snowsuit. This is for my half, and I’ll reimburse my ex the money I spent on the wine. Then we go over to my mom’s for dinner. She made pizza and salad for everyone, and we all watch Ghostbusters. $5

8 p.m. — We get home and my son quickly falls asleep after I get him ready. I sneak out of his room and go to the living room to place an Instacart order. I order ground beef, frozen pizza, blueberry muffins, spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, pretzel sticks, grapes, garlic, asparagus, an onion, zucchini, tomatoes, orange bell peppers, a couple frozen meals, steak sauce, mac and cheese, hot dogs, puff pastry, rice, pepper jack cheese, butter, olive oil, bagels, cream cheese, and aluminum foil. $129.32

9 p.m. — I work on taping Halloween candy to wooden skewers. I plan to stick them in the front yard as a Covid-friendly alternative to handing out candy in a bowl. While I do that, I watch the new Borat movie on Amazon. It’s pretty funny and a sad commentary on our current situation. I go to bed around 11.

Daily Total: $153.67

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — My son comes in my room. We snuggle for a few minutes. Then he says, “It’s morning! It’s Halloween! Let’s go put on our costumes and go trick or treating!” So I have to explain to him that we won’t go trick or treating until later today. I appease his disappointment by reminding him we got extra donuts yesterday. So we each have a donut for breakfast and I make myself a cup of coffee. He begs to watch Nightmare Before Christmas, so we do that while we eat. My son loves the “guess what? Chicken butt!” joke, and I say “guess why? Chicken pot pie!” He says he wants a chicken pot pie, so I heat one up for him from the freezer. Of course he changes his mind, which is how I end up eating a chicken pot pie at 8:30 a.m.

10 a.m. — My groceries are delivered, so I unload those in the kitchen. I also unpack some more of my kitchen boxes while my son plays with his toy trains. Our Halloween movie marathon continues with Ghostbusters 2. I change my son out of his jammies, and I put on my Halloween leggings and black cat sweatshirt.

11 a.m. — My mom, stepdad, and grandpa arrive. While my grandpa plays with my son, my parents do some work on my house (there’s mostly just finishing touches to do) and I make lunch for everyone. I use the puff pastry and hot dogs to make mummy dogs! Served with “blood” (aka ketchup and mustard). After lunch, my grandpa takes my son to the playground and I finish unpacking all my kitchen boxes and start prepping dinner. I have a grapefruit Bubly to drink.

4 p.m. — Time for trick or treating! I get my son in his costume and we head out. Everyone is doing various Covid-friendly trick or treat methods and my son gets a pretty nice haul of candy!

5:30 p.m. — We head back home and I finish making dinner. I’m making stuffed orange bell peppers and carving little jack o’ lantern faces in them so they look like little pumpkins, and witches fingers (aka asparagus) on the side. My son loves it! First home-cooked meal in my new house is a success! Not many trick or treaters came by apparently, because I still have a ton of candy left in my yard. I bring it all back inside and we each have a few pieces.

8 p.m. — After giving my son a bath and reading some books, he is exhausted and passes out. My family leaves and I clean the kitchen, watch some Great British Baking Show and have some Ben and Jerry’s. I text L. and T. a bit. I’m exhausted too, so I go to bed around 10:30.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

5:18 a.m. — My son comes in my room and wakes me up. I forgot that daylight savings time happened overnight, so I’m irritated that he woke up so early. I try to get him to go back to bed but he refuses. Finally I remember that to his body clock, it’s a normal wake up time for him, so I give in and get out of bed too. We have bagels with cream cheese and grapes for breakfast, and I have some coffee. We play with cars and watch How to Train Your Dragon.

9 a.m. — While my son is occupied playing with cars, I take a quick shower. After getting dressed in leggings and a T-shirt, I grab a raspberry Greek yogurt and head back into the living room. We decide to watch Monsters University. I get my son dressed as well, and do a load of laundry.

11 a.m. — My mom, stepdad, and grandpa arrive. My mom and stepdad head to the basement to keep working on house stuff. After I have a quick lunch of a turkey sandwich, I put on my paint clothes and paint the front foyer. My grandpa keeps my son occupied in the living room playing with games and toys while I paint, which takes me about three hours. I drink a grapefruit Bubly while I work.

4 p.m. — We’re all hungry for dinner already, so I decide to place a carryout order from one of my favorite local restaurants down the block from me. I order a family style dinner of cheeseburgers and waffle fries, plus chips and guacamole for my son (that’s what he requested, and in my book, guacamole is a vegetable so that is a perfectly acceptable dinner). At 5, I walk down the block to pick it up. $35.56

7 p.m. — My family leaves and I get my son ready for bed. He’s exhausted so he passes out right away. I’m tired too due to daylight savings time. I watch some Great British Baking Show and eat some Ben and Jerry’s, and head to bed by 10.

Daily Total: $35.56

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